Elsie Dorman

Victoria Adams. Sandra Styles. Dorothy Garner.

We now know so much more about them. More than we ever knew. More than some wanted us to know.

But what about the fourth member of that gathered gang who collectively watched from high above Elm Street as John Kennedy was murdered below? Here was yet one more witness ignored by the Warren Commission. Her name was first brought to our attention by way of Vicki’s testimony before staff counsel David Belin in April 1964:

Belin: Were you standing with anyone?
Miss Adams: Yes, sir.
Belin: With whom?
Miss Adams: I was standing with Sandra Styles, Elsie Dorman, and Dorothy May Garner.

Elsie who?

Certainly she would have factored in with Belin’s stated goal of pinning down the timing of when Vicki Adams left the window for the back stairway. Yet just like potential corroborators Sandra and Dorothy, she was ignored. But Elsie had other secrets too.

So what do we know about Mrs. Dorman?

Very little.

From scattered sources we learn that at 57, she was the oldest of the foursome. With 17 of those years spent at Scott Foresman, she was also the most experienced. Elsie grew up in Pembroke, Maine. She married John T. Dorman, an aircraft mechanic, in Boston in the 1920s. The couple later moved to Dallas.

Elsie Dorman shown in back in blue dress

Her name is rare in early assassination literature. Jim Bishop described her as one of the overly excited, “squealing” females on the fourth floor of the Depository awaiting the president’s appearance. Harold Weisberg called her a “privileged eyewitness” due to her vantage point, and lambasted the FBI and Commission for not recognizing her as such. Mark Lane and Sylvia Meagher didn’t mention her at all.
She is not always included in comprehensive roll calls of witnesses who were in Dealey Plaza. In fact, in the current register of nearly 1,000 “Key Persons” at the National Archives, you will not find her listed.

The record shows only three official interviews with her. Two are sketchy early reports made by the FBI. It’s the third one, conducted by the House Select Committee, that is the more interesting one.

The first took place in Elsie’s Dallas residence the day after the assassination. It lasted a mere three paragraphs. Back then, she admitted she had never seen Lee Oswald and had even “failed to recognize his photographs when shown on television.”

“Mrs. Dorman advised she was looking out the window on the fourth floor,” the agents wrote. “The window was raised and she was taking pictures.”

Taking pictures, you say? Remarkably, this tidbit raised no official interest.

Instead, the report concluded, “She stated she had seen no one whom she could associate with the shots during or after the shots were fired, and was unable to provide any addition information.”

Next, in a robotic exercise of FBI record keeping conducted in March 1964 with all Depository employees at work on that tragic day, Elsie mentioned that associates Dorothy Garner, Victoria Adams, and Sandra Styles were also with her during her picture taking.

“I was using my husband’s camera and was not too familiar with its operation,” she now elaborated. “As the motorcade turned on to Houston Street from Main Street, I started taking photographs. I was seated on the floor with the camera in the window. The window was raised. I continued taking photographs but as the motorcade turned from Houston Street on to Elm Street I became excited and did not get any more photographs.”

The record does not reflect any further interest by the FBI.

Actually, it was not photographs Elsie was talking from her elevated perch but rather what ended up being a 30-second video. And this would eventually become Elsie Dorman’s claim to future researchers’ fame. The film has the honor of being the only known imagery taken from overheard, let alone from the building that housed the alleged assassin. In comparison with other films of the shooting, it pales against Zapruder, Nix, Bronson, Muchmore…and much more. But it does have its moments: it shows the oncoming limousine, crowd scenes, witness positions, Howard Brennan not sitting where the Commission placed him…and several accompanying police motorcyclists.

It was the latter depiction that no doubt led to the third interview of record…in 1978.

On the afternoon of January 20, Elsie was interviewed in her home by a member of the House Select Committee. Although the three-page report does not indicate a specific intent for this late of an inquiry, the timing and the nature of the questions makes it obvious the Committee was interested in only one thing: a film that could possibly help identity the rider of a motorcycle with an open microphone thought to have recorded gunshots in Dealey Plaza.

“The lady appeared nervous,” we are told, “as she explained how she took the ‘pictures’ and why she doesn’t know where they are now.”

“As motorcade approached,” the interviewer writes in clipped third-person style, “she was joined by her supervisor, Dorothy Garner, and ‘two other girls’ as she started taking what she describes as ‘two or three pictures’ of the motorcade as it turned from Main onto Houston. Also took film on next turn (Houston onto Elm).

[Parenthetical material in quoted remarks appears in original.]

“When ‘trouble’ started, she discarded ‘picture taking’ and ran from her window…out the back door (still on the fourth floor) and looked out a window on the other side—the west end closer to the triple underpass. Unsuccessful in her attempt to enhance her perspective, she returned to her (office) window without further significant involvement.”

Now we know it was Elsie Dorman who joined at least one other woman, Ruth Nelson, as they scrambled moments after the shooting from their front-facing windows, out the rear office door, and across the fourth-floor landing to gaze out the west-facing windows onto the railroad yards. They were the ones Dorothy Garner saw emerge from the same office as she stood on the fourth-floor landing after watching Vicki and Sandra start down the stairway. The window women were also spotted by Bonnie Ray Williams as he descended the stairs from his previous perch on the fifth floor.

“She described,” the HSCA interview continues, “how she and all her cohorts were required to be fingerprinted as well as give name, address, work assignment, etc., before they were allowed to leave the building. Hazy as to the type of persons officiating, they were no doubt law enforcement people.

“Nor was she able to recall just when it was when the FBI and Secret Service responded to her home at separate times, but it was probably the same evening (11-22-63) and the following day.

“In any event, she gave – and signed – affidavits telling what she had experienced including ‘the pictures’. Asked if either the FBI took possession of the film or ‘pictures’ she advised that they never so much as saw the pictures. Actually it was quite some time before her husband had the film developed inasmuch as there was still an unused portion and he had waited until it was utilized.”

Mrs. Elsie Dorman in later years

Mrs. Dorman conceded she never saw “the pictures” herself until after they were picked up by a representative of Life magazine. That publication used several frames in a 1967 article on the assassination. She felt the material given to Life had been returned intact by mail, adding that her husband “handled all such affairs” since “it was his camera.”

“She supported her claim by giving us a detailed account of the housebreaking in her home a short time ago while she was on vacation. No doubt she sustained a considerable loss – she displayed a very long, itemized list – but there’s no connection with the ‘missing pictures’.

“Ultimately her best guess was that son, James, probably knows where ‘the pictures’ are. She’ll check with him and we’ll return next week.”

If the HSCA did come back, there is no record of it. But the Dorman video ultimately would become an important element in the Committee’s investigation.

The film is now stored at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.

Mrs. Dorman died in October 1983.

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Roe v. Adams

Theories about who shot JFK are a dime a dozen. Explanations about why Oswald wasn’t seen or heard on the back stairs are equally inexpensive, just not as numerous. 

In 1964, the Warren Commission admitted a truthful Victoria Adams likely would have seen or heard the fleeing assassin. Because she hadn’t, the Commission decreed she came down later, much later – in fact, several minutes later – than she thought. It reached that conclusion after excluding her from time tests, after ignoring at least two corroborating witnesses, and after suppressing the one document that showed she was right after all.

THIS is the way her words were investigated.

Now comes a reprised solution to the Miss Adams mystery, one that pretty much parrots the above in both result and method. It’s introduced this time by Steve Roe, an under-the-radar blogger whose name is not always synonymous with balanced and accurate analysis. If past is precedent, he continues his legacy here.

Roe’s theory – for that is all it really is – has Oswald descending the stairs so fast, he passed the fourth floor before Vicki and co-sprinter Sandra Styles even left their office door.

“Therefore, Adams/Styles wearing 3″ heels going down, not seeing anyone or hearing anyone, including Truly/Baker, had to have missed the shooter,” Roe proclaims. “Why? Truly and Baker were in the 2nd floor lunchroom questioning Oswald. They completely missed each other.”

Sounds simple enough. But does he reach this verdict honestly? No, he doesn’t. There is a fine line in this game between the impartial researcher and someone who wears the clever disguise of being such.

Roe’s foundation is based entirely on a “visit” with Dallas-historian Jerry Dealey, who takes inquiring and paying customers on a tour of prominent assassination-related sites. He describes Jerry as a ‘fence-sitter” on the president’s murder, a guy with “hands-on” knowledge of the Texas School Book Depository and its nearby plaza of which Jerry’s name is ancestrally derived.

Jerry is a hard guy not to like. But there is no question he disagrees with my so-called conclusions.

Not long ago, he said Adams and Styles didn’t hear the assassin because of the “clanking of their high heels” – on tired old wooden steps, no less. Then as an alternative he wrote Oswald, this time alone on the stairs, passed the fourth floor where Adams and Styles worked before the girls even “cleared the mid-wall,” presumably meaning their office.

Sound familiar?

“As I listened to him explain his reasoning,” Roe reflects, “it began to make logical sense. Here’s why. Several witnesses out of [sic] the street, saw a man with a rifle in the 6th floor Southwest corner window of the building. That is undeniable fact. So, somebody was up there. What happened to the shooter? If Lee Oswald was not on the 6th floor, then somebody was… Where did this phantom shooter go?”

This periodic question has been put to rest here – in January 2014! Roe should have known that because he cites from my webpage and my explanation on this point directly relates to his argument. I won’t take space to repeat my response, but those interested can find it under a previous post titled “The Sixth Floor Escape.”

“Years ago,” Roe offers next, “Jerry laid out a possible time scenario of the movements of Adams/Styles, Shooter, and Baker/Truly.” Although it can’t be 100% exact, it’s a good approximate estimate.”

I have never been a fan of “approximate estimates.” First, because it smacks of redundancy. Nor do I put much weight in post-event recreations. They seem to open the door for subjective input and are often suggestive of molding pieces to fit a preconceived notion. One has only to read the Warren Report’s description of Oswald’s journey from the sixth floor to the Texas Theatre to recognize the Commission was no stranger to the concept of time-space compression.

Nevertheless, the “approximate estimate” pulled together by Dealey is simply that, even in its superfluity. To start, it assumes Oswald was the assassin (note the column is also labelled “Shooter,” apparently for fence-sitting purposes). Thus everything is geared toward getting this person into the lunchroom on schedule, a destination which narrows down his assumed identity. It bases the timing of that descent on a recreation made by an Oswald stand-in who placed a “stick” (aka a recreated rifle) behind boxes, failing to account for the extra time it would have taken for it to be carefully concealed as police would later discover. It uses a recreated time of Baker and Truly that conveniently accommodates Oswald’s recreated run. It has Adams and Styles starting down the stairs a full one minute after the assassination.

The Oswald/Shooter descent and the Truly/Baker ascent were based on physical recreations of both events. I’m not sure how Dealey established the Adams/Styles decent as starting at one minute, since no recreations were done involving them. Perhaps it was because the Commission arbitrarily selected that time despite Vicki’s statement she began at 15 to 30 seconds and ended on the first floor within a minute.

And obviously, if Dealey has Adams and Styles descending a minute later, he also has to have Dorothy Garner see them go down a full one minute after the shooting. Disregarded, however, is what Garner told me in no uncertain terms: that the girls left immediately – and she knows that because she followed them out the door.

“The bottom line here,” Roe figures, “and it’s very reasonable; the shooter came down the stairs from the 6th floor just before Adams/Styles made their descent from the 4th floor.”

Using only Dealey’s “approximate estimate” scenario, how could Roe arrive at any other conclusion?

Roe next shows his readers the infamous Martha Joe Stroud document, included in various postings here. He assures us that it lends even further support to his idea Oswald outran Adams and Styles. If that’s the case, why did the Commission suppress such telling corroboration for 35 years? What the Stroud document actually proves is that Vicki was accurate with her timing, that the Commission was aware of that truth in advance of saying she was wrong, that two separate versions of Vicki’s testimony exist, and that Dorothy Garner was a compelling ghost.

Among other inaccuracies, Roe seems to think I definitely believe Oswald was absent from the “sniper’s nest” and that my book “exonerates or proof positive [sic] that Oswald was not on the 6th floor.”

I often have difficulty recognizing my conclusions when they are stated by others.

Had Roe read my book, or even more attentively perused my website, he would have known the outcome of my work was (1) Vicki told the truth, (2) the Warren Commission knew she told the truth, and (3) that truth opens up critical questions as to whether or not Oswald was on the sixth floor at the given time.

My italicized words above clearly do not represent certitude.

In fact at the end of my presentation in Oliver Stone’s “JFK Revisited,” the narrator of that section correctly states with professional caution that corroborating testimony “provide[s] powerful evidence that Oswald was not on the sixth floor.”

That it does. But providing evidence, even if it is “powerful evidence,” is hardly what I’d call definitive.

Readers can find further clarification of this issue by clicking the “Q & A” tab above and scrolling down to “Was Oswald on the Stairs?”

“This Vicki Adams story,” Roe informs us, “has been studied, debated and discussed on JFK forums for many years previous to Stone’s film being released.”

Indeed it has, and in varying degrees of accuracy I might add. What is significant about those studies, debates and discussions is that they are taking place at all.

Roe’s blog post concludes with this rather amusing incongruity:

“In light of the physical evidence on the 6th floor (Oswald’s rifle, prints on the Sniper’s lair boxes, Palm Print on the rifle bag, Palm Print on the rifle, movement of the Rolling Reader book boxes to the Sniper lair), everything points to Oswald beating Adams/Styles down the stairs.”

Even if every single item he offers up isn’t in serious dispute, how does any of that prove Oswald beat Vicki Adams and Sandra Styles down the stairs?

What’s troubling is that Roe uses an “approximate estimate” that he admits is not “100 percent exact” as his sole source for his claim Oswald bested everyone in this historical footrace. Such one-sided examination lacks objectivity, which should be the standard of good reporting and fair writing. My contact information is readily available. Many reviewers and writers use it. Roe chose not to bother. So his final line is all the more ironic: 

“Every piece of evidence has to be accounted for in detail.”

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Stay Tuned!

Oliver Stone’s new documentary, JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, quite naturally has been a tough sell. It will, of course, be controversial as it weaves its way through documents and developments that have emerged based on the impetus of the director’s 1991 classic, JFK. There is a four-hour, four-part version of JFK Revisited as well as a two-hour version. This past summer the pared-down version was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Other successful screenings took place at the Deauville and Rome film festivals.

Now comes the welcome news that the two-hour documentary will premiere in the United States on the Showtime network. It will also appear in theaters and on television screens in many international territories. In this country, the documentary will be streamed on Showtime’s on-demand app beginning November 12, and will premiere on the Showtime television network, appropriately enough, beginning November 22. The two- and four-hour versions will be released for sale or rent in March for those without access to Showtime.

A boxed set of both is being planned.

I’m very honored to also say the story of Victoria Adams, the “girl” from “The Girl on the Stairs,” will be featured in both versions.

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TOP SECRET! Seriously?

Why was the testimony of Victoria Adams stamped “TOP SECRET”?

The short answer is, I have no idea.

There are three classification levels used by the US government for what it considers “sensitive” material: Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. Confidential, the lowest rank, is described as information that would cause “damage” to national security if publically released without authorization. Secret would be deemed to cause “serious damage.” Top Secret, the highest and most critical level, would result in “exceptionally grave damage.”

I’ve been told the government frowns upon what it calls “over classification.” So why was it felt Vicki’s words would cause “exceptionally grave damage” to the national security of the United States? Could it be because she had once been a nun?

I don’t think so.

At this point, readers should be aware of the distinction between the two versions of Vicki’s official testimony:  one that appears in the 26 volumes stating she waived her right to review and sign it (below),

And a second more recently released version which she actually did sign after making handwritten corrections (below).

I first read a steno’s transcript of Vicki’s official testimony in 1968 at the National Archives in downtown Washington. This was the unsigned version that displayed a prominent “TOP SECRET” stamp on the top and bottom of each of its 23 pages, with a declassification date of November 1967. Although it was not made available at the Archives back then, the front cover to an identical copy of her testimony provided by the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor shows this notation in red in the upper right corner:

“This document contains information affecting the national defense of the United States within the meaning of the Espionage Laws Title 18 USC, Sections 793 and 794. The transmission or the revelation of its contents in any manner to an unauthorized person is prohibited by law.”

Espionage? Vicki Adams?

I don’t think so.

Section 793 of that Code would apply if, for instance, Vicki had slyly snapped photographs or made sketches while flying over naval yards, arsenals, research labs, fueling posts, forts, signal stations, torpedo bases, or any other authoritatively clammed-up facility. Section 794 lists the penalties if, for instance, Vicki discreetly met with a foreign spy at Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse to pass along such ill-gotten gains.

Vicki also disclosed in her testimony that she was wearing trendy three-inch heels. Was that the shocker the government wanted held back from fashion-deprived devushkas?

I don’t think so.

As they appear in the Archives, the depositions of some mild-mannered witnesses—Jack Dougherty, Barbara Rowland and Anne Boudreaux, for example—also show baffling Top Secret classifications. Others, like Forrest Sorrels and Bill Decker, are labeled Confidential. Jim Leavelle, who started out at Top Secret, was reduced to Confidential under Executive Order 10501, a rather obscure 1953 Eisenhower edict that again focused on US defense and security matters. Then there were those who seemed more liable of possessing skeletons, such as Sylvia Odio, Edwin Walker, and Carlos Bringuier, who lacked any designation whatsoever.

I have no idea who made those classifications. So I asked Howard Willens about all this and he said, “I have no idea who made those classifications. I have no recollection of a discussion of classifications with Lee Rankin. I agree with you that some of the classifications seem inappropriate. I conclude that there was someone along the process that made these judgments.”

Which is odd since it is more often than not the originating agency—in this case the Warren Commission—that decides whether to classify or not classify a document and, if the former, at what classification level it deserves.  But if it wasn’t the Commission’s responsibility, did it fall on the shoulders of the National Archives?

“We took possession of the Warren Commission Records in November of 1964,” explained Gene Morris, a NARA Textual Reference spokesman. “The records included files that were either at the time or had previously been classified Top Secret, Secret, or Confidential. Any declassification done after that date would have been done while the records were in our custody. However, the National Archives does not have declassification authority, so another agency would have declassified them.”

Recall that in the transcript of Vicki’s testimony at the National Archives in 1968 and in her published testimony in the 26 volumes, we are told Vicki “waived” her right to examine and sign off on her deposition. That TOP SECRET transcript had a declassification date of November 21, 1967. There is an identical copy of that testimony in the Gerald Ford Library that also is unsigned and stamped TOP SECRET.

But for some reason this particular copy holds a declassification date of January 23, 1975.

It was this unsigned version of her deposition that the HSCA reviewed during its late-70s investigation.

Then came The Girl on the Stairs, which revealed a previously withheld June 2, 1964 transmittal letter from Dallas written by Asst. US Attorney Martha Joe Stroud. Among other tidbits, the letter disclosed that a second version of Vicki’s testimony now existed. It nonchalantly mentioned that Vicki—sometime after her deposition and before Miss Stroud penned her letter—had been given a copy of her deposition to review, that she had made several grammatical corrections to it, and that she had in fact signed it after all.

As a matter of routine, Miss Stroud was forwarding this now completed transcript to J. Lee Rankin, As a result of the Stroud letter being made public, this new signed and amended version of her testimony was placed in her file in the National Archives.  The unsigned transcript, which previously had resided there for all those years, vanished.

Strangely, this latest version of her deposition shows a third declassification stamp, one dated February 9, 2011.

What all this means is that as of June 1964, the Commission had in hand a properly signed and witness-corrected transcript of Vicki’s official testimony. Why then did it neglect this deposition and instead have the unsigned, uncorrected transcript published?

Did it simply forget about the signed copy?

I don’t think so.

Because if you compare the unsigned transcript with the signed transcript, you’ll find that the unsigned version contains a revision that only shows up on the signed version! That means the signed and corrected version of Vicki’s testimony was not only available to the Commission, but at least one portion of it was altered, and that alteration was then used in her testimony published in the 26 volumes.

On the more recent version of her testimony—that which was declassified only after publication of The Girl on the Stairs—we see this:

Here’s how that section appears in Vicki’s testimony in the 26 volumes:

Miss Adams. That’s correct.
Mr. Belin. It would be slightly east of the front of the east elevator, and probably as far south as the length of the elevator, is that correct?
Miss Adams. Yes, sir
. (6H390)

Notice how Vicki’s words, “At a point which I would describe as slightly to the east and somewhat to the north of the east elevator” (my emphasis) have been stricken from the record. Those missing words are then paraphrased into Belin’s response but with a 90-degree difference: north becomes south.

What this shows is that the later transcript was read, then edited beyond the corrections Vicki made to her deposition (her corrections being ignored). The cross outs were not done by the witness, whose modus operandi was to insert a corrected word using her stylish penmanship, as shown here:

Why would Vicki’s words be edited out, and subsequently changed, when it appears they were nothing more than an innocuous detail regarding someone’s location? Why, after she agreed it was unnecessary, did the Commission still seek to have her review and sign her testimony? Why, now possessing that officially endorsed version that it sought, did the Commission choose instead to submit to the Government Printing Office the less formal transcript?

“It’s unclear why some depositions were labeled with different classifications,” Gene Morris continued. “We reviewed a selection of a dozen or so Key Persons files and we noted that the transcripts for Robert Adams, Vickie [sic] Adams, James Maurice Solomon, and Charles H. Steele, Jr. were all stamped Top Secret, so Ms. Adam’s [sic] deposition is not unique in that regard. Each is speaking of different things and we cannot identify any commonality that would indicate why it was classified at that level or at all. At this point, we have no idea why the classifications were made the way they were.”

I also have no idea why her testimony needed three separate declassifications: the unsigned, uncorrected versions at the National Archives in 1967 and the Gerald Ford Library in 1975, and the signed, corrected version in the National Archives as recently as 2011.

That alone does not denote sinister implications. But it certainly is strange, as many I’ve questioned about this agree. So I asked Howard Willens why he felt there may have been the need for three such actions if the testimony had remained virtually the same throughout and only one declassification seemed sufficient. His reply?

“I have no idea.”

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What the Others Said

The affable Dick and Jane kids had been a classroom staple for decades by the time Scott Foresman and Company took over most of the fourth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.

Thirteen people worked in that regional office. Joe Bergin, the manager, happened to be at the publishing company’s headquarters in Chicago on November 22, 1963. He therefore missed all the action. But the dozen other employees—all women—were in a position by noon or shortly after to watch the presidential parade either at ground level or from their office windows high above Dealey Plaza.

Four months later—in March 1964—those women became part of an FBI roundup of every Depository employee who happened to be at work that fateful day. For most Scott Foresman workers, this quick questioning would be their first and only recorded interview. And perhaps due to the perfunctory nature of the agency’s inquiry, very little relevant information was obtained from the girls on the fourth floor.

All except for Victoria Adams, who became a focus of attention and was the only one of the twelve to end up being deposed by the Warren Commission.

But what about the other women? Brief as their statements were, what did they have to tell us?

Eight of them elected to remain on the fourth floor. The most congested spot was behind the third set of double windows from the eastern corner of the building.  That’s where Vicki Adams, Dorothy Garner, Sandra Styles, and Elsie Dorman were located. Minutes before the president’s appearance, one of those windows was raised slightly, as shown in the accompanying photograph taken by James Powell.

Mrs. Garner, 35, was the office supervisor. She was described as being astute, and her manner of speaking in her March interview ensures that trait. On November 22, she was in charge of the office, taking over for the absent Joe Bergin. Mrs. Garner was a 10-year veteran with Scott Foresman.  Echoing Vicki’s earlier words, Dorothy Garner told the FBI she heard “three loud reports” she first thought were fireworks that seemed to originate “from a point to the west of the building.”

Sandra Styles, 24, was an office service representative like Vicki. She did not say how many shots she heard, but described them as sounding like fireworks. She didn’t offer an opinion as to their source.

Elsie Dorman, 57, remembered hearing “a noise like gunshots,” but she couldn’t say where they came from.  She was more focused on steadying her husband’s new motion picture camera while seated on the floor filming the approaching motorcade out that partially opened window mentioned earlier.

Standing behind windows just to the west of Vicki’s group were Ruth Nelson, 67, and Yola Hopson, 65. In that series of employee interviews in which the FBI sought so little, Mrs. Nelson had even less to offer. But Mrs. Hopson, who worked in the mailing department, was a bit more expressive. She said she heard an “unrecalled number of loud noises” that also sounded like firecrackers. She would have seen more, she admitted, had it not been for a tree blocking her view. Mrs. Hopson had been subjected to questioning earlier—on December 4, 1963—during which she told the FBI that “…it did not sound to her like the sounds were coming from her building, and that she was not alert to the possibility of someone fleeing that building after the shots.”

Mary Hollies, 24, a Canadian by birth, also worked in the mailing department. She watched the proceedings with co-worker Betty Foster. Hollies said she heard three shots, saw the president “slump over,” but didn’t offer an estimation as to where those shots came from. She did acknowledge seeing pictures of Lee Oswald in newspapers and on television and remembered him as a guy she had spotted in the second-floor lunchroom that routinely was used by many of the Depository’s clerical staff.

Clerk Betty Foster, 28, admitted standing next to Mary Hollies in the stockroom. She offered little more than saying she felt the sounds she heard were fireworks.

Although only Vicki Adams and Sandra Styles would specifically mention in their March reports what they did immediately after the assassination, most of the others “milled around in the office,” Mrs. Hopson would tell the FBI.  Several of them then hurried to west-facing windows on the same floor directly outside the Scott Foresman office. That gave them a better vantage point to spy on what was happening in the railroad yards below. From her position now on the fourth-floor landing, Dorothy Garner watched these women emerge from the office. They were also noticed by worker Bonnie Ray Williams as he descended the nearby back stairs from the fifth floor a few minutes after the shooting.

Four other employees ventured outside to observe the passing motorcade. Judyth McCully, the youngest at 20, said she “heard some shots fired but did not know the direction from which they came.” Miss McCully also admitted seeing photos of Oswald in the media and identified him as someone she too had seen in the second-floor lunchroom.

(She and Mary Hollies were not the only ones who noticed him there.  For instance, in a November 28, 2017 interview with the Sixth Floor Museum, second-floor clerk Karen Westbrook Scranton said she and other clerical staff typically ate their noon meal in that lunchroom. “Lee always sat” at a bank of chairs just inside the door, she recalled, while she and several ladies usually “sat in the back end.” She said Oswald “always ate alone…was always reading,” and “wasn’t terribly friendly. We felt sorry for him.”)

On November 24, McCully told the FBI she was on the fourth floor during the shooting. But in her March meeting with that agency, she corrected her earlier statement to say she was actually standing on the front steps of the Depository with co-worker Avery Davis. It appears the November 24 statement was in error since Mrs. Davis, another office service representative, recalled Miss McCully standing next to her at the front entrance. Mrs. Davis’s position was corroborated by Vicki Adams, who testified she saw her at the Depository’s entrance and spoke briefly with her several minutes after the shooting.

Regarding the shots, Mrs. Davis related she heard “three explosions” and “thought they were from the direction of the viaduct which crosses Elm Street west from where I was standing.”  

Also in front of the building were Betty Thornton, 34, who described the sounds she heard as “firecrackers being discharged.”  She was there with Jane Berry, 23, who “observed the President slump over” after hearing three shots, but didn’t comment as to their direction.

Of those who ended up offering an opinion, none said the sounds they heard—shots, fireworks, or otherwise—came from above them where the ‘”sniper’s nest” was placed, or even from the Depository itself.  All the women were dismissed from work about 2:30 that afternoon. All would return to their desks the day after John Kennedy’s funeral.

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The Adams/Belin Encounter

David Belin had a light schedule on April 7, 1964. As one of a two-man team looking into the true identity of JFK’s assassin—a conclusion many would say the Warren Commission already had determined by that date—Belin was in Dallas to question witnesses he had recommended back in February. But on this particular Tuesday, he had only three appointments. At 9:15 that morning, he talked with Dallas Police Officer W. E. Barnes, apparently so inconsequential he would not even be mentioned in the Warren Report. Then at 4 p.m. came Dealey Plaza witness Barbara Rowland, whose words—despite promises to the contrary made by Belin—would be used to discredit the testimony of her husband, Arnold, who a month earlier had revealed he saw two men on the sixth floor.

Sandwiched in between those witnesses, at 2:15 p.m., was Victoria Adams

A week earlier—on April Fool’s Day coincidentally—Belin had questioned Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig. Craig would later say that his testimony had been altered “and key words had been taken out to make it read different than it should.”

Now Miss Adams, don’t you think you could be wrong?

Victoria Adams would echo much the same regarding her brush with that attorney.

“I didn’t like him,” she told me, “I thought he was a pompous jerk, full of himself and his own power, impressed with himself and manipulative.”

Vicki expanded on that notion:  

“When I gave my deposition to the Warren Commission attorney, he was another of those patronizing types. When I went into the office he was using, he did not stand up, as was the custom in the South when a woman entered the room. He stayed seated. Then he told me he was going to ask me some questions and he wanted me to answer them without elaboration. So he went through all of the questions he had. I answered. He told me that all my answers and his questions were ‘off the record,’ and that he would invite a court reporter in to take my actual deposition and I was to answer exactly what I said to him—no variations. During the informal part, he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms and looked at me straight. ‘Now Miss Adams, don’t you think you could be wrong? Memory is a funny thing and tricks some people.’ I looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘I could be, but I’m not wrong. I know what I saw, what I did and what I heard.’

“He told me at the end of the questioning he would ask me if I had anything to add that I hadn’t mentioned up to then. I was supposed to say, ‘No,’ as I had in my initial session. But I didn’t. As I started speaking, he looked startled, especially when I talked about seeing Jack Ruby on the corner across the street from the Depository building. That subject had not come up in the original question and answer session.

“He thanked me for my time and I left.” 

But the sting of that encounter would persist for many years.

“You can imagine I felt stupid and like a fool when I read the book [the Warren Report] when it came out. I felt treated like a moronic child. The echoes of that attorney’s words haunted me, ‘Now, Miss Adams, don’t you think you could be wrong?’ I kept asking why the Warren Commission wasn’t calling for Sandra Styles. In fact, during the initial briefing before my testimony was taken by the attorney, I asked him why they didn’t call Sandra Styles.”

That appeal seemed logical, especially since Belin months earlier had cited the importance to determining precisely when Vicki had run down the stairs. Co-worker Sandra Styles, who had accompanied Vicki, sounded like the perfect candidate to help resolve this issue. Yet Belin’s response to Vicki’s request was inconsistent with his previous comment.  

“He said they didn’t need her,” Vicki noted.  “They had me.”

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Tale of the Tape

Faithful readers know by now that the original stenographer’s tape containing the tamper-free testimony of Victoria Adams is missing from the National Archives.

The loss of that historical record is unsettling. It goes against the preservation orders set forth by the Commission. And it appears suspicious since Vicki’s words opened up a rabbit hole for the government’s storyline of how Oswald escaped from the sixth floor—or if he was even up there at all.

In 1964, that kind of tape was like toilet paper: it was used right up until the roll ran out. It had a unique style of machine shorthand that virtually eliminated alteration. The tape flowed from a stenographer’s version of a typewriter in one long, narrow, and continuous strip of paper that folded itself accordion style. Kept intact, the elimination of one person’s testimony from that strip meant the elimination of all others appearing on the same spool.

Including Vicki, a dozen witnesses were deposed in Dallas that day, April 7, 1964. Their names, the attorney who conducted the questioning, and the time of each deposition follows:

David Belin

9:15 – W. E. D. Barnes (DPD officer)

2:15 – Victoria Adams

4:00 – Barbara Rowland (Dealey Plaza witness)

Joseph Ball and Samuel Stern

9:30 – James R. Leavelle (DPD detective)

2:15 – Danny Arce (TSBD employee)

2:45 – Geneva Hine (credit office, TSBD second floor)

3:10 – J. B. Hicks (DPD officer)

3:20 – Doris Burns (Macmillan Co. correspondent, TSBD third floor)

3:50 – Billy Lovelady (TSBD employee)

4:10 – William Shelley (TSBD manager)

4:40 – Earle Brown (DPD officer)

4:50 – Joe Molina (TSBD employee)

Curiously, four of those listed have either a direct or peripheral connection to the Vicki Adams’ story.

William Shelley and Billy Lovelady, of course, are the most critical since the Commission used their words to discredit Vicki.  In her testimony, Vicki is quoted as saying she saw those two on the first floor when she arrived there within a minute after the assassination. But how could that be if she came down that fast and both men testified they remained outside for several minutes following the shooting?  Vicki contends she did not say she saw them, and the Shelley/Lovelady passage was inserted into a later transcript of her testimony to make her appear wrong. Certainly the Commission’s unstudied conclusion that Vicki was confused and descended later than she thought avoided having to explain why she didn’t see or hear anyone on the same stairs when, if she was indeed accurate with her timing, Oswald should have been there.

James Leavelle interviewed Vicki on the night of February 17, 1964, under suspicious circumstances. He told her, for instance, he was there because a fire at police headquarters had destroyed Vicki’s earlier file. Despite previous questioning by several different authorities, this was the first time—now three months after the assassination—in which Vicki mentions the names Shelley and Lovelady. 

After descending the stairs Vicki went out the rear door, then in a few moments returned to the front entrance.  There, she noticed Joe Molina. Since Molina testified he only briefly remained outside before going back to work, Vicki’s sighting of him lends support for her swift descent, exit, and return to the building.  Molina, who was questioned late in the afternoon that day, should have been asked about Vicki since, during her earlier session, she specifically brought up his name, and Molina was being questioned about who he saw while standing outside. (Also at the front entrance, Vicki spotted and actually conversed with another employee, Avery Davis, who likely was spared the same fate as those above since she was never examined by the Commission.)

The evidence remains consistent with Vicki coming down the stairs exactly as she testified.  Therefore, if she really did say in her testimony that she saw Shelley and Lovelady on the first floor, then those men lied under oath for some reason about remaining outside. But if she really didn’t say she saw them, then her testimony was falsified.

That’s why the first-generation stenotype tape is so important.

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Vicki Through The Years

In her words, Vicki successfully “low-profiled” her past after Dallas. Her husband advised it. Close friends were kept in the dark. Still others never made a connection. At most, the name Victoria Adams was linked only to a lead singer of the Spice Girls.

“I tend to be reclusive,” she once admitted. “I thought I was this private person, a roving gypsy who lit and flitted through life.”

Supporting that itinerant notion were repeated job changes, six uninterrupted years drifting along the blue highways of America, and a Warren Commission that effectively dismissed her on seemingly reasonable grounds.

The self-styled ‘gypsy” with her husband Skip, here enjoying New Mexico in 1993

What little that was available about her came mainly from her scanty official testimony and a cursory FBI interview stuffed deep into the 26 volumes. A few other documents popped up, but only by way of in-person searches at the National Archives. Some of the pioneers who scoured such evidence came across her comments and were drawn to three areas of interest: when she came down the stairs (“immediately”), where she felt the shots came from (“the right below rather than from the left above”), and who she saw outside (a man “very similar” in appearance to Jack Ruby).

Her first open mention occurred in Mark Lane’s 1966 book, Rush to Judgment. Briefly noting her quick descent from the fourth floor of the Depository, Lane focused instead on her implication shots originated from the grassy knoll (p. 110), and her probable sighting of Ruby in a place he shouldn’t have been (pp. 262-63).

She was later talked into appearing with Lane as a guest on the Mort Sahl show in Los Angeles. She discussed her whole story then, but was disappointed with the result. “They were only interested in whether or not I had seen Ruby,” Vicki said. “So I just gave up.”

Sylvia Meagher, however, set her sights on the critical stairway angle. “We now revert to Victoria Adams,” she wrote in Accessories After the Fact, “bearing in mind that if her story is accurate it decisively invalidates the Warren Commission’s hypothesis about Oswald’s movements between 12: 30 and 12:33 pm” (pp. 72-74).  Published in 1967, one must wonder why such recognized significance was never pursued.

Harold Weisberg took a slightly different track. In 1967’s Photographic Whitewash, he used Vicki’s statement that her view of the motorcade was temporarily obstructed by an oak tree in an attempt to pinpoint the president’s position when the first shot struck him (pp. 51-52). His personal notes indicate he considered her testimony about this point to be of the “highest significance.”

Also that year, Josiah Thompson in Six Seconds in Dallas listed Vicki as one more who felt shots came from the knoll.  To his credit he clarified that labeling by citing what she actually had said: “below & to the right” (p. 254).

“And I was even in Playboy magazine,” Vicki teased one day. Indeed she was, but not how most might think. In a lengthy February 1967 Playboy interview with Mark Lane, the attorney brought up her name, telling readers that based on her testimony, she was on the stairway at the same time as Oswald. “He wasn’t there,” Lane quoted Vicki as saying.

Misspelling her name, Jim Bishop in 1968 wrote this colorful and imaginative prose in The Day Kennedy Was Shot: “Not many, even in the plaza, noticed the group of girls squealing with anticipation on the fourth floor of the School Book Depository. They clasped and unclasped their hands with delight as the lead car approached. The office belonged to Vickie Adams. She had invited her friends, Sandra Styles, Elsie Dorman, and Dorothy May Garner to watch with her. The girls were thrilled because of the exceptional view, looking downward into the car, and the possibility of seeing the youthful, attractive First Lady and what she was wearing. The girls were prepared to discuss Mrs. Kennedy’s shoes, gloves, hat, coiffure, even the roses” (pp. 168-69).

In 1968’s Moment of Madness: The People vs. Jack Ruby, Elmer Gertz writes: “Victoria Adams is cited by [Mark] Lane as a witness to Ruby’s presence at the scene of the assassination. Her only comment was that the man she saw looked ‘very similar’ to Ruby. Her testimony indicated that the man she saw was probably on the corner for more than fifteen minutes [his emphasis], which exceeded the maximum time that Ruby could have spent there in order to return to the [Dallas Morning News] newspaper office on time” (p. 526).

Warren Commission attorney David Belin, who took Vicki’s official testimony in 1964, used the exact same arguments from back then to discredit her all over again—this time to even greater lengths—in his 1973 book, November 22: You Are the Jury (pp. 268-71). As a result of his initial questioning of Vicki, he pointed out in his book, “[Joseph] Ball and I had come to another dead end in our efforts to establish the innocence of Oswald or the existence of a co-conspirator.”

Despite showing an interest in Vicki, the HSCA failed to acknowledge her in its 1979 final report.

“Indeed, one witness, Victoria Adams, testified she was on the stairway at that time, and heard no one,” David Lifton correctly penned in his 1980 best seller, Best Evidence. “The Commission concluded she was wrong as to when she was coming down the stairs” (p. 351).

Only snippets of her story were presented in 1989’s wide-ranging Crossfire by Jim Marrs (pp. 44, 53, and 325).

But Oswald had his long-awaited day in court in Walt Brown’s 1992 The People v. Lee Harvey Oswald. In this fiction-based-on-fact courtroom drama, Appendix A reveals that Vicki was subpoenaed as a witness for the imaginary trial but, true to form, was not called to testify (p. 613).

Vicki made her silver screen debut in the 1991 hit movie JFK. Oliver Stone portrayed her running down the stairs as a frenzied Lee Oswald rushes by, a taunt by the director at how it had to be if the Warren Commission’s scenario of that particular event were true.  The actress who depicted Vicki was not named in the credits.

The girl on the stairs, courtesy of Oliver Stone in the 1992 movie JFK

The real Victoria Adams is alphabetically listed as a witness in two encyclopedic paperbacks: 1992’s The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James Duffy and Vincent Ricci (p. 5), and 1993’s Who’s Who in the JFK Assassination by Michael Benson (also p. 5).

Vicki’s “immediate” run down the stairs is elevated in 1993 to taking “at least four to five minutes after the third shot”—an opinion introduced by way of a footnote, no less—in Gerald Posner’s Case Closed (p. 264). Posner reportedly smiled and quietly walked away when shown a document by a fellow researcher that contradicted his inflated time estimate and instead corroborated her speediness.

She’s noted only as a looker-on to the story of co-worker Elsie Dorman’s jumpy attempt at filming the presidential motorcade from their fourth-floor perch in Richard Trask’s 1994 Pictures of the Pain (pp. 443 and 445).

Coverup, written in 1998 by Stewart Galanor, correctly cites Vicki’s testimony where she said the sound of the shots “seemed as if it came from the right below rather than from the left above” (p. 75).  Yet a bit later, Galanor lists her as still another witness who felt the shots came from the knoll (p. 171).

In Murder in Dealey Plaza, a collection of articles edited by James H. Fetzer and published in 2000, you’ll find Vicki’s actions between 12:30 and 12:32 described chronologically as part of “Part I: The Day JFK Was Shot” (pp. 45-46).

Professor Gerald McKnight provides a general account of Vicki’s statements and actions in 2005’s Breach of Trust. But then he writes “immediately after the assassination Adams gave the same account to Dallas police detective James R. Leavelle” (pp. 113-14). Actually, Vicki gave that account to Leavelle nearly three months after the assassination. And in footnotes on page 377 (#13 and #17), McKnight says that Vicki corrected her Warren Commission testimony on February 17, 1964, a task hard to imagine since her testimony didn’t take place until April 7, 1964. The February 17 date was when she was interviewed by Leavelle.

Her name takes on the more fashionable “Ms. Adams” in G. Paul Chambers 2010 book Head Shot (p. 61). And she is christened as a possible assassin, of all things, in Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 tome, Reclaiming History. “Why not?” he asks, hopefully in jest for his sake. “Women can pull triggers too, you know” (p. 832).

Once The Girl on the Stairs was commercially published in 2013, Vicki’s full narrative finally became known. Had she lived to see it happen, it’s doubtful she would have changed her style.

“You know what?” she told me one day. “Here is the truth: I want nothing. I do not crave fame nor fortune. I just want to help you since it has been so terribly important to you. I just want someone to hear the truth. Should your book be published before I die, I do not want anyone to know where I am. I want no publicity. And I know on an inner level that you will respect my confidentiality.”

As hoped, The Girl prompted further discussions and studies of this overlooked woman. Yet it still didn’t stop the occasional errors of fact. For instance, Jerome Corsi in his 2013 book Who Really Killed Kennedy? devotes a section to Vicki that he titles “The Girl in [sic] the Stairs.” He tells readers Vicki “produced for Ernest a 1964 letter her attorney had written to J. Lee Rankin…complaining that someone had made changes in her deposition, altering her meaning” (pp. 94-95). Vicki didn’t produce the letter; it was discovered in the National Archives. The letter was written to Rankin by Asst. U.S. Attorney Martha Joe Stroud, who certainly was not counsel to Vicki. And the letter merely listed a few grammatical corrections Vicki had noted after reviewing a transcript of her deposition. It contained no complaints about changes that altered her meaning. That would surface later.

Also in 2013, Flip de May, gave Vicki the dues she had been denied. In a lengthy segment of Cold Case Kennedy, he traced Vicki’s step-by-step journey down the stairs in an elaborate and graphic timeline (pp. 351-62). He titled that part of his book “The women on the stairs,” the plural alluding to a neglected coworker who had accompanied Vicki.

And again in 2013, historian James DiEugenio offered up an accurate and thorough examination of Vicki’s unabridged account in Reclaiming Parkland (pp. 91-95).

The most recent mention of Vicki appears in Vince Palamara’s latest book, Honest Answers about the Murder of President John F. Kennedy: A New Look at the JFK Assassination. In this March 2021 volume, the author calls her version of events a “game changer” because “it proves that Oswald could not have been firing a rifle up on the sixth floor” (p. 110).

Today, additional considerations of Vicki are being planned.

Many years ago, Vicki tried to tell authorities her side of the story. “I said it so many times I got tired of saying it,” she once explained. But nobody wanted to hear it back then. “No one wanted to believe anything else other than what they wanted to believe.”     

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The Lunchroom Encounter

I was asked the other day if I thought the second-floor lunchroom encounter between Baker, Truly, and Oswald was legitimate, if maybe it had never occurred and instead was fabricated to divert public attention from where Oswald really was when the shots were fired.

It reminded me of two things, one of which seemed so slight at the time it never really made much of a footprint.

It was March 20, 1968. I was fortunate to be sitting in Roy Truly’s office, in part because I had told him I was from far-away Pennsylvania.

“Philadelphia?” he inquired.

No, I said, a small town I was quite sure he had never heard of. And I was right.

He told me he had once dealt with a newspaper reporter from Philly named “Lee.” He couldn’t remember if that was his first or last name. But it had stuck in his mind—even after nearly five years of media grilling—because of a former employee by the name of “Lee” Oswald.

Anyway, I made a mental note and began rummaging through a bunch of press clippings when I returned home. Sure enough I found articles written by an Adrian Lee of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. One in particular was a multi-columned, name-filled narrative of what occurred in Dallas that most newsworthy of weekends. (Lee died in 2011. He had joined the Bulletin in 1948 and won several honors, one a “best-writing award” for his coverage of the JFK assassination.)

I was curious enough to call Lee that week, who kindly spent some time telling me of his newsman’s involvement. Then he offered up a personal tidbit.

Seems that very early on November 23, the morning after the assassination, he had tried to reach Roy Truly by phone at his home. His wife answered only to tell Lee her husband had already returned to the Depository.  Lee said Mrs. Truly was nice, willing to chat, and volunteered a detailed story. She told Lee when Truly arrived home the previous evening—shortly after 7 p.m.—he related to her how he and a policeman had met Oswald in a second-floor lunchroom not long after the shooting. Mrs. Truly said her husband described Oswald as being a bit startled—”Wouldn’t you be?” I remember Lee asking me—as the officer pointed a gun at him. But otherwise, Truly told his wife Oswald was composed and unshaken. She also admitted that her husband felt a bit guilty, wishing he had known then what he later found out.     

Interesting, I thought, but just another tree in the forest.

In a related episode (although I didn’t make the connection then), I interviewed Lt. Carl Day on Oct. 6, 1999. I recall it being a rather lengthy and rambling phone conversation. But during it, Day started describing his actions on the afternoon of the assassination.

“I lifted the gun from where it was found and one live round was ejected. Then I took the gun back to the department, locked it up, and returned to the Depository. I spoke with Truly then, who related the story of running up to the second floor after the shots and seeing Oswald standing at the coke machine.”

Day told me he returned to the Depository at 3 p.m., the time he also used in his Warren Commission testimony. He said he stayed there until 6 p.m.

Somewhere in that three-hour period, FBI agent Nat Pinkston talked with both Day and Truly. Pinkston then penned a summary memo to his boss describing his afternoon’s activities, further stating, “Lt. Day was at this time at the book depository and the gun was at the PD.” In the same memo, Pinkston wrote that Truly mentioned to him about going up the stairs with a police officer and seeing Oswald in a second-floor “snack bar.”

I suppose the point to all this is that if the second-floor lunchroom incident was fictitious, it certainly had to be invented rather quickly. It had to be thought up, pulled together, and brought into line—rehearsed, one might say—with a handful of consenting adults prior to Truly telling his wife about it shortly after his arrival home at 7 o’clock that very night. In fact, it somehow had to be manufactured before Carl Day heard it from Truly not long after Day’s return to the Depository at 3 p.m.

Does the unlikelihood of such a hastily contrived scenario mean the confrontation really was real and it took place exactly as officially described? Not necessarily, but the timing of when this presumed myth originated must be an important consideration.  How could it have been concocted not the next day, not later that weekend as things fell into place, but within only a few hours of the assassination and before much of the evidence was even known?

And yes, I’m familiar with the contradictions to the official story.

I’m well aware that Officer Marrion Baker initially thought the incident had occurred on a different floor; that a local reporter “overheard” Truly saying he saw Oswald on the first floor right after the shooting; that a New York paper quoted TSBD VP Ochus Campbell that day as saying much the same thing; that Oswald himself admitted to being on the first floor when the shots were fired.

Never mind that Baker was unfamiliar with the building’s layout; that journalism school (at least in my day) does not teach students to print stories based on eavesdropping; that Campbell never mentioned observing Oswald when he completed an official FBI report under oath (in fact, in that report he went so far as to say he was “not personally acquainted” with Oswald and “has never seen him”); that Oswald himself stated he was in the second-floor lunchroom when confronted by a policeman. In fact, he made this admission during his first interrogation session that began at 2:30 that afternoon and while Truly, Day, and Pinkston were still at the Depository.

Counters to these conflicts might be that Truly and Baker lied for some sinister reason; that Pinkston was the mastermind of this charade for national security purposes; that an earwigged comment really is the most reliable of all journalistic sources; that Campbell changed his story for some sinister reason; that Oswald fibbed about being on the second floor, or he was misquoted, or his interrogators lied about what he really said in their official reports — for some sinister reason.

Citing media dispatches from that weekend can be risky. Press reporting was grossly inadequate and misleading (so bad it was a topic of discussion in my J-school legal classes nearly ten years later). From such luminaries as Dan Rather and Bob Clark the public was told other people had been shot in Dealey Plaza and taken to the hospital; that the assassin fired from the fifth floor, then ran to the sixth to hide his rifle; that LBJ was shot, Gov. Connally was hit in the head, and a Secret Service agent had been “confirmed” killed; that JFK arrived at Parkland Hospital by bus; that a man and a woman fired at the president.

Funny, in hindsight.

But in a debate on the merits of the lunchroom encounter—just like so many other singular aspects of this crime—one must take into no-nonsense account the critical timing issue. Exactly when did this supposed fantasy first surface, why was it deemed necessary, and who could have efficiently pulled together and coordinated something as complicated as this so fast with a whole lot of uncertainties still floating in the air?

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Setting It Straight

My reply to John Armstrong’s attack of Victoria Adams with a clear eye toward cleaning up the assumptions he makes regarding the evidence:

In a recent website article titled “Oswald DID NOT Run Down the Stairs” (his emphasis), researcher/author John Armstrong dissects the story of Victoria Adams. He wholeheartedly upholds her account that she descended the back stairs of the Texas School Book Depository immediately after the assassination. But he takes strong exception to statements she made to me that she DID NOT (my emphasis) see employees William Shelley and Billy Lovelady when she arrived on the first floor.

Vicki is quoted in her Warren Commission testimony as saying Shelley and Lovelady were there. Yet those two men claimed they remained outside the Depository for upwards of 10 minutes after the assassination. This apparent contradiction between Miss Adams’ prompt descent while claiming she saw two men still outside is what the Commission used to discredit her.

Armstrong thinks her statement before the Commission—that she saw Shelley and Lovelady—is gospel. He contends her comments of not seeing those men made some 40 years after the fact should be viewed with skepticism and doubt.

No one agrees more than I.

That doubt is precisely what pushed me to search for the original transcript of her testimony. Did she really say she saw Shelley and Lovelady, or was her testimony doctored as she herself believes? I was looking for the first generation, virtually unalterable, accordion-style paper tape coded by the court stenographer. What I discovered was that this critical tape was missing from the National Archives. A later document revealed it had been destroyed by the Commission, previously on record as promising to preserve such evidence for future inspection.

So, we don’t really know what Vicki said. Or didn’t say. Nevertheless, Armstrong maintains she was word-perfect about seeing those two men, and chastises her for telling me otherwise. He ends up calling her a “hoax.” Knowing about Vicki and her highly principled background, she is the last person who would fabricate a story.

So why is this guy so harsh with her?

In order to answer that, we need to understand John Armstrong.

In 2003, he wrote a book titled “Harvey and Lee.” In it, he claims Lee Harvey Oswald was actually two people: one the publicly recognized assassin “Lee,” the other a mysterious look-alike named “Harvey.” The book was praised for its meticulous detail. But it was also criticized by some on the grounds Armstrong interpreted evidence in a way that reinforced his hypothesis.

Part of Armstrong’s recent foray contends that both Harvey and Lee were cohorts in a plot to kill JFK. And each was present in the Depository on November 22nd. Abettors were there as well, one to help one of the pair of Oswalds escape from the sixth floor, the other to lead the other away from the crime scene.

Enter Shelley and Lovelady…and, by extension, Victoria Adams.

Armstrong’s scenario has Lovelady turning off electrical power in the building seconds after the assassination from a circuit box on the first floor. This allowed the sniper’s-nest shooter enough time to pry up loose floor boards, safely crawl into the passenger elevator shaft below, then make his way into the elevator compartment and ride to freedom once Lovelady reset the power a couple minutes later. Shelley’s task was less complicated, merely escorting the other confederate out a rear door.

Shelley and Lovelady thus had to be present on the first floor…in a New York minute. Their quick appearance at the back of the building, Armstrong surmises, “is a clear indication that either one or both of these men may have been co-conspirators.” That’s why he favors Vicki’s up-tempo descent and her supposed sighting of both men. But that’s also why he’s so critical of her when she says she really didn’t see those two after all. This is why he has to call Adams’ story a “hoax”.

Since Vicki’s original testimony no longer exists (prompting suspicion all by itself), is there other corroboration? 

The best comes from a co-worker, Sandra Styles, who accompanied Vicki to the first floor. She was a perfect witness to not only verify the timing, but also to say who was there when the girls arrived. She was never questioned by the Warren Commission. Funny thing too is that Sandra Styles knew Shelley and Lovelady. In fact, she knew them well. When I tracked her down in 2002, she told me that Shelley and Lovelady definitely were not on the first floor. She repeated that in subsequent interviews, often emphatically. So how does Armstrong handle this?

“Adams’ co-worker, Sandra Styles, followed her from their office on the 4th floor, down the wooden stairs, and onto the 1st floor. As the two women were rushing out of the building, Styles momentarily focused her [eyes] on a policeman hurrying toward the stairs and elevator. Styles’ memory of seeing police (Officer Baker) on the first floor agreed with Adams’ statement of the time that she arrived on the first floor, which was within one minute after the shooting. Styles did not see Shelley or Lovelady, but her vivid memory of the police may explain why she paid little or no attention to other people in the area. Her focus of attention was on the policeman.” (Parenthetical material above as shown in original.)

I do not have to check any of my records regarding Sandra Styles to know that she never said she saw police let alone a single policeman on the first floor. I’m surprised that the often-described-as meticulous Armstrong failed to verify her “vivid” observation, especially with such a reachable witness. Instead, he chose not to source her supposed statement, and now I know why.

After sending Armstong’s comment about her to Sandra for a response, she reiterated that she absolutely did not see any police or a policeman on the first floor that day. She had no clue about where Armstrong got his information. Her only sighting of a cop, she said, was the one sitting on a motorcycle outside the building as she was about to reenter the Depository.

Armstrong gives excessive weight to the day-of affidavits made by Shelley and Lovelady in which each imply a rapid return back into the Depository. But their later, more complete interviews to the FBI and Warren Commission detailing their longer stay outside are considered bogus, having been “changed,” so Armstrong believes, in order to avoid culpability.

He elevates Dallas Police Officer Marrion Baker’s observation of two unidentified white men on the first floor as he and building manager Roy Truly rushed toward the back staircase:

“One of these two ‘white men’ was Bill Shelley, who stated in an affidavit to the Dallas Police that he was told ‘to watch the elevators and not let anyone off.’ The only time that Roy Truly could have told Shelley to watch the elevators was moments before he and Officer Baker ran up the stairs—1 and 1/2 minutes after the shooting (his emphasis).”

From the first floor, Baker and Truly sped up the back stairs to the roof where the policeman felt shots may have originated. According to Truly, that round trip took about 10 minutes. So it’s conceivable Truly’s request that Shelley oversee the elevators may just as likely have taken place after Truly and Baker returned to the first floor and after a later return to the building by Shelley and Lovelady.

Oddly, Armstrong completely ignores the one man all three individuals—Miss Adams, Miss Styles, and Officer Baker—independently told me they noticed near those elevators: a large black man. That is the only person Vicki said she saw and spoke to, not Shelley or Lovelady. That is the only person Miss Styles observed, not Shelley or Lovelady or the police. And that is the same man Baker told me he was about to confront, a la Oswald seconds later on the second floor, until Truly told him the black man was an employee.

Shelley, Lovelady, and Miss Adams were questioned by Warren Commission staff in April 1964. Vicki went first, followed by Lovelady, then Shelley. Armstrong writes:

“The simple fact is that if Adams had not told the WC, in 1964, that she saw Shelley and Lovelady on the first floor, then the WC would have no reason to question these men about Adams.”

As Armstrong knows, for he already cited this document, the Commission had in hand a February 17, 1964, interview submitted by Dallas Police Detective James Leavelle, in which Miss Adams, for the first and only time since the assassination, is quoted as saying she saw Shelley and Lovelady. Those interested should read that section of my book which discusses the strange circumstances surrounding this unnerving interview, particularly the detective’s explanation that Vicki had to be re-interviewed because a fire at police headquarters had destroyed her earlier file. (See The Girl on the Stairs, pp. 246–47.)

[NOTE: You can read this police report in full. Click on the “Q&A” tab above then scroll to the “Detective Leavelle” entry.]

Armstrong writes that during Lovelady’s testimony, he “volunteered (his emphasis) that he saw ‘Vickie’ when he returned to the building.” That is not accurate. Here’s what Lovelady actually said, but only after several prompts by Commission counsel: “I saw a girl, but I wouldn’t swear to it it’s Vickie [sic]. Armstrong’s mistake is as bad as the Commission’s own conclusion on this as displayed on page 154 of the Warren Report: “On entering, Lovelady saw a girl on the first floor who he believes was Victoria Adams.” Shelley, by the way, said he didn’t see Vicki on the first floor, a detail Armstrong overlooks.

In a September 1964 internal memo, Warren Commission counsel Wesley Liebeler wrote this about Vicki:

“Victoria Adams testified that she came down the stairway within about 1 minute after the shots, from the fourth floor to the first floor where she encountered two Depository employees—Bill Shelley and Billy Lovelady. If Miss Adams was on the stairway at that time, the question is raised as to why she did not see Oswald…”

But notice how Armstrong inserts additional words into Liebeler’s comment when he quotes the attorney as saying this instead:

“Victoria Adams testified that she came down the stairway, within about 1 minute after the shots, from the fourth floor to the first floor where she encountered two Depository employees—Bill Shelley and Billy Lovelady. If Adams saw these two men on the 1st floor, near the freight elevators and stairway, only one minute after the shooting, then how could Oswald have [run] down the stairs from the 6th to the 2nd floor at the same time?”

If you follow his argument, then this explains the excess verbiage.

And although he is quick to condemn Vicki for her 40-year-old assertion of not seeing Shelley and Lovelady, he uses as further support for his thesis a comment Buell Wesley Frazier made for the first time, coincidentally four decades after JFK’s death. In an interview, Frazier said he saw Oswald emerge from the rear of the Depository shortly after the assassination.  It’s only natural to suspect this statement is used by Armstrong to support his theory. Yet he ignores Frazier’s other assertion made during the same interview that he saw Shelley and Lovelady walking to the railroad yards moments after the assassination.

Fabricating evidence and ignoring that which is contrary to your belief are not traits of honest research.

(See related items by clicking on the “Q&A” tab above.)

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